In recent days, we have had a diplomatic dust-up between Kenya and Tanzania over pasture for cattle belonging to the Maasai community who live on the two sides of the border.
Dar es Salaam ruffled Kenyan feathers when, in what must have been Africa’s largest chicken roast, it burnt 6,400 chicks imported from Kenya, for fear of bird flu. It also auctioned 1,125 cows belonging to Kenyan herders after they were confiscated for grazing in Tanzania. And it has seized several times that number – 6,600 – from Uganda.
Partly for historical and ideological reasons, Uganda and Tanzanian beef tends to be handled more quietly, than that between Tanzania and Kenya.
On Thursday, President John Magufuli arrived in Uganda for a two-day state visit. Together with his host Yoweri Museveni, they launched a second one-stop-border-post (OSBP) at Mutukula on the Uganda-Tanzania border.
They also laid the foundation for the 1,445km-long East African crude oil pipeline, which will start in Hoima district in Uganda and run all the way to the Indian Ocean Tanzanian port of Tanga.
Ahead of his departure for Uganda, Magufuli delivered himself on the cattle dispute.
Those looking for a catchy sound bite weren’t disappointed, with Magufuli saying that “Tanzania is not a grazing land for Kenya’s cows.”
This cattle flap is a big contradiction. Some years ago, in a series of workshops by the Society for International Development (SID) for its 2007 report entitled “Searching for the Soul of East Africa,” this matter of animals and borders came up many times.
One of the most amazing spectacles in the world is the annual wildebeest migration, in which nearly 1.5 million wildebeest make a circular tour between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara in Kenya, in search of greener pastures.
A number of participants opined that the wildebeest seemed to be smarter than East African politicians, and they were hailed as quintessential integrationists.
The wildebeest understand that borders get in the way of survival, and weaken them. That we thrive if we allow free movement.
The same lessons are taught farther to the west, where the last surviving mountain gorillas live in the Virunga range of mountains on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Over the past 35 years, each of these countries has gone to hell and back – although by many accounts the DRC is still in hell.
The possibility for the mountain gorillas to escape from the countries where they were facing the greatest predation, to a neighbouring safer haven, partly explains why they survive in that region.
The mountain gorillas, in addition, because they are lucrative tourism business, have forced Uganda, Rwanda and DRC to learn how to co-operate on their protection.
It should be possible to do the same thing with cattle or, in this case, pasture and water.
After all, Museveni is a cattle man. Uhuru Kenyatta is a milk man. Magufuli, well, when he last visited Rwanda, President Paul Kagame gifted him some cows, and see how well they are getting along. The man understands cows.